Do you remember the simple science experiment where a lit candle is covered with a glass jar and eventually the flame runs out of oxygen and it slowly dwindles, its glow fades until eventually, it is extinguished? We learn that the flame feeds on the air around it. When the flame is partially covered, perhaps to protect it from a bitter wind, it still glows, albeit with a little less fervor, as it can still find the oxygen it needs.
The seemingly innocuous, protective glass jar is anything but as it closes in on the flame.
Exactly one year ago my flame (me) was all but extinguished; it was just a weak glow which limply flickered as its fight dwindled against the suffocating environment of the glass jar.
This all sounds very melodramatic, doesn’t it?
Excuse me; it’s the only way I can find to express the sheer terminal effect that Ana was having over me.
One year on….
Some of my ups and downs have been documented here. I still haven’t had the courage to re-read them. Why? I suppose I’m frightened that I’ll feel Ana’s pull again. She’s still in my head every day. When I walk, I hate the way my body feels, the way it moves. In the changing rooms yesterday, I hated seeing my rounded tummy and my full arms. Those qualities still signify weakness to me. Yes, I’ll admit it, I miss the slender limbs. I say ‘slender’ you say ‘skeletal’. But, having said that, I tried a silk dress on that, despite my ‘shapeless, chunky arms’, looked nice on me and only because I filled it. At 6st 10lb (my lowest weight) I could never have worn a silk dress and look like anything but a lifeless skeleton draped in silk.
So, in the changing rooms, stood in that slinky dress, not liking my tummy or my arms, I chose to look at something else. I did this without really thinking. I looked at my hair and, thankfully(!) I was having a good hair day, it looked pretty, my make-up looked nice (I dismissed the voice reminding me that I was in flattering soft lighting).
I stepped out of the changing rooms to look at my reflection, and I mean really look at it. How can I best describe my thoughts? As I looked at myself I simultaneously told myself: I’m more than my tummy; I’m more than my arms; I’m more than my thighs; I’m Emma. I’m a friendly smile and a warm heart.
I suppose this is what I wanted to say.
The beginning of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week has coincided with the one year anniversary of my diagnosis.
I’ve been reflecting on the last twelve months quite a bit. I have two cards in my bag so that I can write to my two best friends to let them know what they and their support, love and friendship have meant to me.
I’m by no means in a safe place. I know I’m teetering on the edge. Only two weeks ago I was in the depths of anorexic despair and resorting to old habits. I’ve formed new ‘coping’ mechanisms since Christmas which are equally as toxic.
So, what’s the difference?
I eat and I look forward to food! But, I have my rules. Of course, when I break them, I beat myself up. There are foods that I just won’t let myself eat. But there are so many foods I love eating again and without a second thought!
However, even today, I thought, why don’t I treat myself to my favourite scone and pot of tea at Betty’s, but I couldn’t. The reason: because I was accounting for the breakfast I’d eaten and the dinner I was going to eat.
Recovery isn’t a miracle. It doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve had moments of strength when I’ve eaten steak and onion rings and moments of terror when a new potato has reduced me to tears. Its ups and downs and it blindsides me, sometimes.
I’m lucky that my two closest friends have never discussed weight/looks. That’s not because they thought I had an issue but because it wasn’t the be all and end all to them. Yes, I know they have their private hang-ups but they live healthy lifestyles; treats when they want them, exercise and a balanced healthy diet the rest of the time. They nurture their bodies and enjoy their lives.
When I read the likes of Glmaour, Marie Claire, Vogue, I am so so thankful that the people who matter to me the most really don’t care whether I’m wearing a top I wore two years ago or whether I’m four pounds heavier this month than last month. What they care about is the same as what I care about: them and their lives, their troubles; their goals; their dreams; their achievements.
I love them. I don’t love their dress size. I really must remember this. I really must learn not to compare myself to others. Only I am me. I can’t be anybody else, that’s genetically, biologically spiritually, totally impossible. So why should I try to be? Moreoever, why should I want to be? Surely there are very few things in this world that are truly unique except for each and every one of us. So, why don’t I celebrate and be proud of that rather than hankering after ‘the other’?
I’ve got some way to go and lots of work still to do but I’m really getting there and I want to get there. I used to be proud of myself notwithstanding the bits I thought weren’t that great because I could see the bigger picture.
Ana made me believe that she was my best friend and that if I stuck by her side I’d be safe from hurt forever.
I know differently now. I know that first and foremost I need to be my own best friend. I need to trust, care for, like, love and appreciate myself.
At the BAFTAs on Sunday evening (oh, I would have loved to have been there, or at least the after party!) Ben Affleck likened his exploration into the world of directing as his ‘second act’. This struck me.
My First Act revolved around academic achievement, goals, perfection, attainment, self-protection. I achieved what I set out to, academic success and the attainment of a career. Instead of recognising that this was the moment to take an interval before commencing the Second Act, I didn’t realise there was an Act Two. I kept trying to keep the format of the First Act going, but that wasn’t going to work. The pace was different going forward.
My Second Act now needs to be about, well, me. It needs to be about growing as a lawyer, gaining and furthering my expertise and finally pursuing things just for myself. Happiness no longer can be found in the 100%, A*s, or distinctions but rather in a job well done, a weekend spent with friends or family, trying out a new activity, reading a new book. Quite simply being comfortable in my own skin will be quite enough for me.